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may, when he had finished, a great many ladies and gentle-
men came up and complimented him very much, and said
they had never seen a beginner do anything like it before ;
and Mr. Augustus Cooper was perfectly satisfied with himself,
and everybody else into the bargain ; and " stood " consider-
able quantities of spirits-and-.water, negus, and compounds,
for the use and behoof of two or three dozen very particular
friends, selected from the select circle of five-and-se verity pupils.

Now, whether it was the strength of the compounds, or the
beauty of the ladies, or what not, it did so happen that Mr.
Augustus Cooper encouraged, rather than repelled, the very
flattering attentions of a young lady in brown gauze over white
calico who had appeared particularly, struck with him from
the first ; and when the encouragements had been prolonged
for some time, Miss Billsmethi betrayed her spite and jealousy
thereat by calling the young lady in brown gauze a " creeter,"
which induced the young lady in brown gauze to retort, in



certain sentences containing a taunt founded on the payment
of four-and-sixpence a quarter, which reference Mr. Augustus
Cooper, being then and there in a state of considerable
bewilderment, expressed his entire concurrence in. Miss Bill-
smethi, thus renounced, forthwith began screaming in the
loudest key of her voice, at the rate of fourteen screams a
minute ; and being unsuccessful, in an onslaught on the eyes
and face, first of the lady in gauze and then of Mr. Augustus
Cooper, called distractedly on the other three-and-seventy
pupils to furnish her with oxalic acid for her own private
drinking ; and, the call not being honoured, made another
rush at Mr. Cooper, and then had her stay-lace cut, and was
carried oft' to bed. Mr. Augustus Cooper, not being remark-
able for quickness of apprehension, was at a loss to under-
stand what all this meant, until Signer Billsmethi explained
it in a most satisfactory manner, by stating to the pupils,
that Mr. Augustus Cooper had made and confirmed divers
promises of marriage to his daughter on divers occasions, and
had now basely deserted her ; on which, the indignation of the
pupils became universal ; and as several chivalrous gentlemen
inquired rather pressingly of Mr. Augustus Cooper, whether
he required anything for his own use, or, in other words,
whether he " wanted anything for himself, 1 *" he deemed it
prudent to make a precipitate retreat. And the upshot of
the matter was, that a lawyer's letter came next day, and an
action was commenced next week ; and that Mr. Augustus
Cooper, after walking twice to the Serpentine for the purpose
of drowning himself, and coming twice back without doing-
it, made a confidante of his mother, who compromised the
matter with twenty pounds from the till : which made twenty
pounds four shillings and sixpence paid to Signor Billsmethi,
exclusive of treats and pumps. And Mr. Augustus Cooper
went back and lived with his mother, and there he lives to
this day ; and as he has lost his ambition for society, and
never goes into the world, he will never see this account of
himself, and will never be any the wiser.



THERE are certain descriptions of people who, oddly enough,
appear to appertain exclusively to the metropolis. You meet
them, every day, in the streets of London, but no one ever
encounters them elsewhere ; they seem indigenous to the soil,
and to belong as exclusively to London as its own smoke, or
the dingy bricks and mortar. We could illustrate the remark
by a variety of examples, but, in our present sketch, we will
only advert to one class as a specimen that class which is so
aptly and expressively designated as " shabby-genteel."

Now, shabby people, God knows, may be found anywhere,
and genteel people are not articles of greater scarcity out of
London than in it; but this compound of the two this
shabby-gentility is as purely local as the statue at Charing-
cross, or the pump at Aldgate. It is worthy of remark, too,
that only men are shabby-genteel ; a woman is always either
dirty and slovenly in the extreme, or neat and respectable,
however poverty-stricken in appearance. A very poor man,
"who has seen better days," as the phrase goes, is a strange
compound of dirty-slovenliness and wretched attempts at
faded smartness.

We will endeavour to explain our conception of the term
which forms the title of this paper. If you meet a man,
lounging up Drury-lane, or leaning with his back against a
post in Long-acre, with his hands in the pockets of a pair of


drab trousers plentifully besprinkled with grease-spots: the
trousers made very full over the boots, and ornamented with
two cords down the outside of each leg wearing, also, what
has been a brown coat with bright buttons, and a hat very
much pinched up at the side, cocked over his right eye
don't pity him. He is not shabby-genteel. The " harmonic
meetings" at some fourth-rate public-house, or the purlieus
of a private theatre, are his chosen haunts; he entertains
a rooted antipathy to any kind of work, and is on familiar
terms with several pantomime men at the large houses. But,
if you see hurrying along a by-street, keeping as close as he
can to the area-railings, a man of about forty or fifty, clad
in an old rusty suit of threadbare black cloth which shines
with constant wear as if it had been bees-waxed the trousers
tightly strapped down, partly for the look of the thing and
partly to keep his old shoes from slipping oft' at the heels,
if you observe, too, that his yellowish-white neckerchief is
carefully pinned up, to conceal the tattered garment under-
neath, and that his hands are encased in the remains of an
old pair of beaver gloves, you may set him down as a shabby-
genteel man. A glance at that depressed face, and timorous
air of conscious poverty, will make your heart ache alwavs
supposing that you are neither a philosopher nor a political

We were once haunted by a shabby-genteel man ; he was
bodily present to our senses all day, and he was in our mind's
eye all night. The man of whom Sir Walter Scott speaks in
his Demonology, did not suffer half the persecution from his
imaginary gentleman-usher in black velvet, that we sustained
from our friend in quondam black cloth. He first attracted
our notice, by sitting opposite to us in the reading-room at
the British Museum ; and what made the man more remark-
able was, that he always had before him a couple of shabby-
genteel books two old dog's-eared folios, in mouldy worm-
eaten covers, which had once been smart. He was in his
chair, every morning, just as the clock struck ten ; he was


always the last to leave the room in the afternoon ; and
when he did, he quitted it with the air of a man who knew
not where else to go, for warmth and quiet. There he used
to sit all day, as close to the table as possible, in order to
conceal the lack of buttons on his coat : with his old hat
carefully deposited at his feet, where he evidently flattered
himself it escaped observation.

About two oY-lock, you would see him munching a French
roll or a penny loaf; not taking it boldly out of his pocket
at once, like a man who knew he was only making a lunch ;
but breaking oft' little bits in his pocket, and eating them by
stealth. He knew too well it was his dinner.

When we first saw this poor object, we thought it quite
impossible that his attire could ever become worse. We
even went so far, as to speculate on the possibility of his
shortly appearing in a decent second-hand suit. We knew
nothing about the matter; he grew more and more shabby-
genteel every day. The buttons dropped off his waistcoat,
one by one ; then, he buttoned his coat ; and when one side
of the coat was reduced to the same condition as the waist-
coat, he buttoned it over on the other side. He looked
somewhat better at the beginning of the week than at the
conclusion, because the neckerchief, though yellow, was not
quite so dingy ; and, in the midst of all this wretchedness,
he never appeared without gloves and straps. He remained
in this state for a week or two. At length, one of the
buttons on the back of the coat fell off, and then the man
himself disappeared, and we thought he was dead.

We were sitting at the same table about a week after his
disappearance, and as our eyes rested on his vacant chair, we
insensibly fell into a train of meditation on the subject of
his retirement from public life. We were wondering whether
he had hung himself, or thrown himself off a bridge whether
he really was dead or had only been arrested when our
conjectures were suddenly set at rest by the entry of the man
himself. He had undergone some strange metamorphosis,


and walked up the centre of the room with an air which
showed he was fully conscious of the improvement in his
appearance. It was very odd. His clothes were a fine, deep,
glossy black ; and yet they looked like the same suit ; nay,
there were the very darns with which old acquaintance had
made us familiar. The hat, too nobody could mistake the
shape of that hat, with its high crown gradually increasing
in circumference towards the top. Long service had imparted
to it a reddish-brown tint ; but, now, it was as black as the
coat. The truth flashed suddenly upon us they had been
" revived." It is a deceitful liquid that black and blue reviver ;
we have watched its effects on many a shabby-genteel man.
It betrays its victims into a temporary assumption of impor-
tance : possibly into the purchase of a new pair of gloves, or
a cheap stock, or some other trifling article of dress. It
elevates their spirits for a week, only to depress them, if
possible, below their original level. It was so in this case;
the transient dignity of the unhappy man decreased, in exact
proportion as the "reviver" wore off. The knees of the
unmentionables, and the elbows of the coat, and the seams
generally, soon began to get alarmingly white. The hat was
once more deposited under the table, and its owner crept
into his seat as quietly as ever.

There was a week of incessant small rain and mist. At
its expiration the "reviver" had entirely vanished, and the
shabby-genteel man never afterwards attempted to effect any
improvement in his outward appearance.

It would be difficult to name any particular part of town
as the principal resort of shabby-genteel men. We have
met a great many persons of this description in the neigh-
bourhood of the inns of court. They may be met with, in
Holborn, between eight and ten any morning; and whoever
has the curiosity to enter the Insolvent Debtors 1 Court will
observe, both among spectators and practitioners, a great
variety of them. We never went on ''Change, by any chance,
without seeing some shabby-genteel men, and we have often


wondered what earthly business they can have there. They
will sit there, for hours, leaning on great, dropsical, mildewed
umbrellas, or eating Abernethy biscuits. Nobody speaks to
them, nor they to any one. On consideration, we remember
to have occasionally seen two shabby-genteel men conversing
together on "Change, but our experience assures us that this
is an uncommon circumstance, occasioned by the offer of a
pinch of snuff, or some such civility.

It would be a task of equal difficulty, either to assign
any particular spot for the residence of these beings, or to
endeavour to enumerate their general occupations. We were
never engaged in business with more than one shabby-genteel
man ; and he was a drunken engraver, and lived in a damp
back-parlour in a new row of houses at Camden-town, half
street, half brick-field, somewhere near the canal. A shabby-
genteel man may have no occupation, or he may be a corn
agent, or a coal agent, or a wine merchant, or a collector of
debts, or a broker's assistant, or a broken-down attorney. He
may be a clerk of the lowest description, or a contributor
to the press of the same grade. Whether our readers have
noticed these men, in their walks, as often as we have, we
know not ; this we know that the miserably poor man (no
matter whether he owes his distresses to his own conduct, or
that of others) who feels his poverty and vainly strives to
conceal it, is one of the most pitiable objects in human
nature. Such objects, with few exceptions, are shabby-genteel



DAMON and Pythias were undoubtedly very good fellows in
their way: the former for his extreme readiness to put in
special bail for a friend : and the latter for a certain trump-
like punctuality in turning up just in the very nick of time,
scarcely less remarkable. Many points in their character
have, however, grown obsolete. Damons are rather hard to
find, in these days of imprisonment for debt (except the sham
ones, and they cost half-a-crown) ; and, as to the Pythiases,
the few that have existed in these degenerate times, have
had an unfortunate knack of making themselves scarce, at
the very moment when their appearance would have been
strictly classical. If the actions of these heroes, however,
can find no parallel in modern times, their friendship can.
We have Damon and Pythias on the one hand. We have
Potter and Smithers on the other ; and, lest the two last-
mentioned names should never have reached the ears of our
unenlightened readers, we can do no better than make them
acquainted with the owners thereof.

Mr. Thomas Potter, then, was a clerk in the city, and Mr.
Robert Smithers was a ditto in the same ; their incomes were
limited, but their friendship was unbounded. They lived in
the same street, walked into town every morning at the same
hour, dined at the same slap-bang every day, and revelled
in each other's company every night. They were knit


together by the closest ties of intimacy and friendship, or, as
Mr. Thomas Potter touchingly observed, they were "thick-
and-thin pals, and nothing but it." There was a spice of
romance in Mr. Smithers's disposition, a ray of poetry, a gleam
of misery, a sort of consciousness of he didn't exactly know
what, coming across him he didn't precisely know why which
stood out in fine relief against the oft-hand, dashing, amateur-
pickpocket-sort-of-manner, which distinguished Mr. Potter in
an eminent degree.

The peculiarity of their respective dispositions, extended
itself to their individual costume. Mr. Smithers generally
appeared in public in a surtout and shoes, with a narrow-
black neckerchief and a brown hat, very much turned up at
the sides peculiarities which Mr. Potter wholly eschewed,
for it was his ambition to do something in the celebrated
" kiddy " or stage-coach way, and he had even gone so far as
to invest capital in the purchase of a rough blue coat with
wooden buttons, made upon the fireman's principle, in which,
with the addition of a low-crowned, flower-pot-saucer-shaped
hat, he had created no inconsiderable sensation at the Albion
in Little Russell-street, and divers other places of public and
fashionable resort.

Mr. Potter and Mr. Smithers had mutually agreed that, on
the receipt of their quarter's salary, they would jointly and in
company "spend the evening" an evident misnomer the
spending applying, as everybody knows, not to the evening
itself but to all the money the individual may chance to be
possessed of, on the occasion to which reference is made ; and
they had likewise agreed that, on the evening aforesaid, they
would "make a night of it" an expressive term, implying
the borrowing of several hours from to-morrow morning,
adding them to the night before, and manufacturing a com-
pound night of the whole.

The quarter-day arrived at last we say at last, because
quarter-days are as eccentric as comets : moving wonderfully
quick when you have a good deal to pay, and marvellously


slow when you have a little to receive. Mr. Thomas Potter
and Mr. Robert Smithers met by appointment to begin the
evening with a dinner; and a nice, snug, comfortable dinner
they had, consisting of a little procession of four chops and
four kidneys, following each other, supported on either side
by a pot of the real draught stout, and attended by divers
cushions of bread, and wedges of cheese.

When the cloth was removed, Mr. Thomas Potter ordered
the waiter to bring in, two goes of his best Scotch whiskey,
with warm water and sugar, and a couple of his " very
mildest" Havannahs, which the waiter did. Mr. Thomas
Potter mixed his grog, and lighted his cigar; Mr. Robert
Smithers did the same ; and then, Mr. Thomas Potter jocularly
proposed as the first toast, " the abolition of all offices what-
ever" (not sinecures, but counting-houses), which was imme-
diately drunk by Mr. Robert Smithers, with enthusiastic
applause. So they went on, talking politics, puffing cigars,
and sipping whiskey-and- water, until the "goes" most
appropriately so called were both gone, which Mr. Robert
Smithers perceiving, immediately ordered in two more goes
of the best Scotch whiskey, and two more of the very mildest
Havannahs ; and the goes kept coming in, and the mild
Havannahs kept going out, until, what with the drinking,
and lighting, and puffing, and the stale ashes on the table,
and the tallow-grease on the cigars, Mr. Robert Smithers
began to doubt the mildness of the Havannahs, and to feel
very much as if he had been sitting in a hackney-coach with
his back to the horses.

As to Mr. Thomas Potter, he would keep laughing out
loud, and volunteering inarticulate declarations that he was
" all right ; " in proof of which, he feebly bespoke the evening
paper after the next gentleman, but finding it a matter of
some difficulty to discover any news in its columns, or to
ascertain distinctly whether it had any columns at all, walked
slowly out to look for the moon, and, after coming back
quite pale with looking up at the sky so long, and attempting


to express mirth at Mr. Robert Smithers having fallen asleep,
by various galvanic chuckles, laid his head on his arm, and
went to sleep also. When he awoke again, Mr. Robert
Smithers awoke too, and they both very gravely agreed that
it was extremely unwise to eat so many pickled walnuts with
the chops, as it was a notorious fact that they always made
people queer and sleepy ; indeed, if it had not been for the
whiskey and cigars, there was no knowing what harm they
mightn't have done 'em. So they took some coffee, and after
paying the bill, twelve and twopence the dinner, and the
odd tenpence for the waiter thirteen shillings in all started
out on their expedition to manufacture a night.

It was just half-past eight, so they thought they couldn't
do better than go at half-price to the slips at the City
Theatre, which they did accordingly. Mr. Robert Smithers,
who had become extremely poetical after the settlement of the
bill, enlivening the walk by informing Mr. Thomas Potter in
confidence that he felt an inward presentiment of approaching
dissolution, and subsequently enbellishing the theatre, by
falling asleep, with his head and both arms gracefully droop-
ing over the front of the boxes.

Such was the quiet demeanour of the unassuming Smithers,
and such were the happy effects of Scotch whiskey and
Havannahs on that interesting person ! But Mr. Thomas
Potter, whose great aim it was to be considered as a " knowing
card," a "fast-goer," and so forth, conducted himself in a
very different manner, and commenced going very fast indeed
rather too fast at last, for the patience of the audience to
keep pace with him. On his first entry, he contented himself
by earnestly calling upon the gentlemen in the gallery to
" flare up," accompanying the demand with another request,
expressive of his wish that they would instantaneously " form
a union," both which requisitions were responded to, in the
manner most in vogue on such occasions.

" Give that dog a bone ! " cried one gentleman in his shirt-


"Where have you been a having half a pint of interme-
diate beer?" cried a second. "Tailor!" screamed a third.
" Barber's clerk ! " shouted a fourth. " Throw him o VEU ! ri
roared a fifth; while numerous voices concurred in desiring
Mr. Thomas Potter to " go home to his mother ! " All these
taunts Mr. Thomas Potter received with supreme contempt,
cocking the low-crowned hat a little more on one side,
whenever any reference was made to his personal appearance,
and, standing up with his arms a-kimbo, expressing defiance

The overture to which these various sounds had been
an ad libitum accompaniment concluded, the second piece
began, and Mr. Thomas Potter, emboldened by impunity,
proceeded to behave in a most unprecedented and outrageous
manner. First of all, he imitated the shake of the principal
female singer; then, groaned at the blue fire; then, affected
to be frightened into convulsions of terror at the appearance
of the ghost ; and, lastly, not only made a running com-
mentary, in an audible voice, upon the dialogue on the stage,
but actually awoke Mr. Robert Smithers, who, hearing his
companion making a noise, and having a very indistinct
notion where he was, or what was required of him, imme-
diately, by way of imitating a good example, set up the most
unearthly, unremitting, and appalling howling that ever
audience heard. It was too much. " Turn them out ! " was
the general cry. A noise, as of shuffling of feet, and men
being knocked up with violence against wainscoting, was
heard : a hurried dialogue of " Come out ? " " I won't ! "
" You shall ! " " I shan't ! " " Give me your card, Sir ? "
" You Ye a scoundrel, Sir ! " and so forth, succeeded.
A round of applause betokened the approbation of the
audience, and Mr. Robert Smithers and Mr. Thomas Potter
found themselves shot with astonishing swiftness into the
road, without having had the trouble of once putting foot to
ground during the whole progress of their rapid descent.

Mr. Robert Smithers, being constitutionally one of the


slow-goers, and having had quite enough of fast-going, in the
course of his recent expulsion, to last until the quarter-day
then next ensuing at the very least, had no sooner emerged
with his companion from the precincts of Milton-street, than
he proceeded to indulge in circuitous references to the beauties
of sleep, mingled with distant allusions to the propriety of
returning to Islington, and testing the influence of their
patent Bramahs over the street-door locks to which they
respectively belonged. Mr. Thomas Potter, however, was
valorous and peremptory. They had come out to make a
night of it: and a night must be made. So Mr. Robert
Smithers, who was three parts dull, and the other dismal,
despairingly assented ; and they went into a wine-vaults, to
get materials for assisting them in making a night; where
they found a good many young ladies, and various old
gentlemen, and a plentiful sprinkling of hackney-coachmen
and cab-drivers, all drinking and talking together ; and Mr.
Thomas Potter and Mr. Robert Smithers drank small glasses
of brandy, and large glasses of soda, until they began to
have a very confused idea, either of things in general, or of
anything in particular; and, when they had done treating
themselves they began to treat everybody else ; and the rest
of the entertainment was a confused mixture of heads and
heels, black eyes and blue uniforms, mud and gas-lights, thick
doors, and stone paving.

Then, as standard novelists expressively inform us "all
was a blank ! " and in the morning the blank was filled up
with the words " STATIOX-HOUSE," and the station-house was
filled up with Mr. Thomas Potter, Mr. Robert Smithers, and
the major part of their wine-vault companions of the pre-
ceding night, with a comparatively small portion of clothing
of any kind. And it was disclosed at the Police-office, to
the indignation of the Bench, and the astonishment of the
spectators, how one Robert Smithers, aided and abetted by
one Thomas Potter, had knocked down and beaten, in divers
streets, at different times, five men, four boys, and three


women ; how the said Thomas Potter had feloniously obtained
possession of five door-knockers, two bell-handles, and a
bonnet; how Robert Smithers, his friend, had sworn, at least
forty pounds'" worth of oaths, at the rate of five shillings
apiece; terrified whole streets full of Her Majesty's subjects

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 25 of 31)